Washington lawmakers passed a new bill welcoming longtime victims of America’s War on Drugs into the state’s cannabis market this week, in an attempt to begin reconciling a huge access gap in legal weed business licenses.
According to Marijuana Business Daily, the new law, approved by both houses of the state legislature, will guarantee that at least 34 previously-revoked cannabis business licenses are redistributed to qualifying equity applicants.
Despite trailblazing as one of the first states with a fully functioning adult-use cannabis industry, Washington has since struggled to spread the wealth, with large swaths of the local marketplace dominated by deep-pocketed investors.
“When we first started issuing those licenses, it was easy access for those who had a lot of resources and understood the process,” Rep. Eric Pettigrew, who sponsored the new bill, told MJBizDaily. “Not surprisingly, this made it difficult if not impossible for many would-be entrepreneurs in communities of color, especially African Americans and Latinos, to obtain licenses to grow and process marijuana, or to open retail shops. This gives us an opportunity to go back and offer more equal access to citizens throughout the state.”
Across the legal cannabis industry, social equity business licenses have been a point of focus for both legalization advocates and legislators. But with steep licensing fees and other barriers to entry often setting the tone for new markets, finding a place in the pot trade for previously persecuted people has proved more difficult than just putting a line in local law.
Under the new bill, total licensing access for the 34 open slots will cost under $2,000, with additional support from a cannabis tax fund. After years of back and forth between equity applicants and Liquor Control Board regulators, Paula Sardinas, commissioner and lobbyist for the state’s Commission on African American Affairs, said that the guaranteed equity permits will hopefully build a new trust between the community and state officials.
“We will now have the most progressive social equity program in the country,” Sardinas said. “In order for that work to be successful, we must also address the lack of trust that exists between the community and the LCB.”
The new law, which is currently sitting on Governor Jay Inslee’s desk, where it is expected to be ratified soon, will also create a task force to oversee the distribution and successful use of the equity licenses. The task force is expected to have its first meeting this summer, July 1st, with plenty of new cultivation sites, manufacturing centers, and dispensaries opening shortly after.
“It’s a great start to allow for more opportunities for people of color to be a part of this growing industry, and to reap the benefits not only for their business community but for the entire community,” state Rep. Eric Pettigrew said.
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